Written in Red Page 50

The ponies shifted, jostled, nipped at her coat in a way that made her think of a child tugging on an adult’s sleeve in a bid for attention.

She didn’t have enough mail sorted to fill the baskets for the eight ponies who had shown up, but she made sure they all had something to carry. Then she opened the box of sugar lumps.

“A special Moonsday treat,” she said, holding out two lumps to Thunder. He took them happily. They all did. So happily, in fact, they all tried to get in line again for another serving.

When she closed the box and waved bye-bye, they all stared at her—and the box—for a long moment before trotting off to deliver the mail.

Sighing and shivering, Meg closed the door, returned the sugar to the cupboard in the back room, and continued with her work.

* * *

The Business Association’s meeting room had a ring of wooden chairs set around a low, round sectional table. It also had a secretary desk and filing cabinets, as well as a computer on another desk that could be used for e-mail or placing orders with human companies.

Since the Business Association’s office filled the other half of HGR’s second floor, Simon was the first to arrive. He chose a seat and waited through the usual shuffling for position that took place because the bird gards wouldn’t willingly sit next to one another and none of them wanted to sit next to the Sanguinati.

Vlad and Nyx arrived a minute after he did. Everyone else came in a moment later, leaving their outer garments on the coatrack in the small waiting room and delaying their entrance long enough for the Sanguinati to choose their seats.

Vlad sat next to him and Nyx sat on Vlad’s right. From there, the chairs around the table filled in—Jester, Blair, Jenni Crowgard, Tess, Julia Hawkgard, and Henry. Allison Owlgard took the last chair.

Jenni was part of the Business Association, but Julia and Allison weren’t. Which meant the leaders of their gards had probably chosen them as representatives because they did work around or in the businesses that had contact with humans.

“We’re all here, Simon,” Henry said in a quiet rumble.

“Lieutenant Montgomery came to see me this morning,” Simon said.

“We stayed on our own land yesterday,” Blair growled. “Or on the sidewalks that butt up against it, which are considered public property. The humans have no cause for complaint about that.”

“I heard some youngsters had fun digging in the compost pile,” Jester said. “Could someone have reported that?”

Blair shook his head. “That’s technically our land, but we let the Lakeside parks and utilities people use it too. Both sides add to the compost piles and can make use of the material. The park and utility workers don’t mind us digging. Saves them some work turning the piles. Besides, the youngsters didn’t have that much fun with it. The stuff is frozen just like everything else right now.”

“He wasn’t here about our being seen or about the compost,” Simon said. Shifting his hip, he pulled out the paper and razor from a pocket. He opened the paper and set it in the center of the round table.

“Oh,” Jenni said, sounding pleased. “The Meg looks more like a Crow in that picture.”

Jester sat back, as if he wanted distance from the poster. Vlad shifted uneasily, and Nyx was unnervingly still. Tess’s hair turned green and began curling wildly.

Blair’s eyes were filled with hot anger, but his voice was quiet when he asked, “What did she steal?”

“This.” Simon set the silver razor, designation side up, on the poster.

“Shiny!”

Jenni made a grab for the razor, then jerked her hand back when Blair turned his head and snapped at her. She made a show of holding her hand protectively against her chest and leaning toward Tess.

Henry leaned forward. “What is cs759?”

“Her designation.” Simon hesitated. “Meg is a cassandra sangue.”

“A blood prophet?” Jester said. “Our Liaison is a blood prophet?”

Simon nodded. “She ran away from the place where she was kept. That’s how she ended up here.”

“It’s rare for them to be out in the world,” Henry said thoughtfully. “We know little about her kind of human because so few of them are out in the world. I wonder if Meg doesn’t smell like prey because she is a different kind of human.”

“I don’t think the Owlgard knows much about them except for a few rumors, and those always make them sound special and pampered,” Allison said.

“Caged. She said they were caged,” Simon said. After a moment he added, “She said she would rather die than go back there.”

An awkward silence. Caging a terra indigene was considered an act of war—which was why keeping Sam in a cage for the pup’s own safety was killing Simon a little more every day.

“Did you see any scars?” Nyx asked.

He nodded. “On her left arm, above and below the elbow. Evenly spaced.”

Jester blew out a breath. “Meg is the first decent Liaison we’ve ever had in this Courtyard—at least since I’ve been living here. But if the police have this poster and are showing it to you, they know she’s here. Do we want to get into a fight with them over another human? We don’t even know enough about blood prophets to know if it’s worth the fight.”

Tess suddenly shifted in her chair—a jerky, angry movement. Her hair was now bloodred with green streaks and black threads.

Jenni looked at Tess, let out a caw, and scooted her chair as close to Blair’s as she could.

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